There he is again, sitting in the middle of the floor. You plead with him to get up and finish his homework and chores, but he won’t budge. Instead, he looks at you in complete contempt. This is the third time, or maybe the fourth, but you notice a pattern emerging. And it’s showing up in school, too.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD, affects as many as 1 out of every 10 children. It’s not a disorder that comes to mind when your child is being “hard headed.” Every child is disobedient from time to time, but when it becomes a consistent habit, there may be other factors at work.
In order for you to
identify this disorder in your child, it is important to consider which actions you’re seeing on a consistent basis coming from your child. Here are some of the behaviors that children with ODD may display:
- Debating violently with parents, teachers, and other adults who are generally taken to be in position of influence
- Frequently losing their temper, sometimes over trivial matters
- Displaying resentment
- Acts out knowing that these actions may provoke an angry or disapproving response
- Refuses all requests, particularly those by parents and people in position of authority
- Refuses to accept responsibility for mistakes
- Chooses to put responsibility for mistakes on other people
Many children with ODD display four or more of these symptoms. While short-term behavioral problems may occur with children, if you notice these behaviors consistently lasting for six months or more, consult your child’s physician, or a family therapist to have your child evaluated. Your child’s doctor will test to see if ODD is the correct diagnosis, or if it a different disorder or combination of disorders that need care and management.
ODD can increase family stress and requires that you be patient with your child as they learn new behaviors and coping strategies. When tensions between you and your child, or your spouse and your child occur, there are three ways to manage the situation and restore calm in the home:
Don’t Get Into Arguments. Arguing with a child with ODD will lead to more confrontation. Instead, stay calm and in doing so, you have a better chance at changing the physiology of your child; they will reflect your calm. Explain your desired outcome to the child — “I need you to do your homework now so that we can get to your karate class on time.” Then remind them that what you have said is to be obeyed. If the child attempts to debate or displays a defiant attitude or demeanor, walk away and encourage your child to do deep breathing exercises to bring their stressors down. Then , come back to talk to your child when they have calmed down and can communicate without raising their voice or expressing negative body language.
Be clear about consequences. Scott Wardell of Empowering Parents said, “Sit down with your child and let the child know the negative consequences that they will receive if they argue with a parent. Set the consequence ahead of time and stick to the consequence. It’s appropriate to let children know that you do not want an argument as a warning before providing the consequence.”
Teach your child the difference between debate and arguments. Debates allow two people to share their points of view without offending others and leaving one person a winner and another a loser. Arguments end with a winner and a loser. Wardell added, “Teach your child what points of view or opinions are debatable in your home. If your child says, ‘Mom, I’m tired of doing dishes. The parent can respond by saying, That’s fine. It’s a good time to change chores. You may pick between feeding the dog or dusting this week.’” There may be instances when you cannot be flexible with things, such as schedules and appointments. Reinforce to your child that while you understand their concern, the schedule is fixed and cannot be changed.
Parenting a child with ODD isn’t for the faint of heart. Even as a parent, it is wise for you to have support systems around you be it friends, family, other parents, or therapists. The sooner you learn to develop strategies to help your child manage their ODD, the faster you’ll restore your home to a more peaceful environment.
Leah Davies, M.Ed., encourages parents to stay the course and to work closely with teachers, therapists, and other authority figures that your child interacts with in order to create a better chance at a positive outcome.
“The future of these children is uncertain. Some of them will outgrow ODD. Others will develop coexisting disorders that will need further treatment. Still other children will be diagnosed with Conduct Disorder and their problem behaviors will become more severe,” she said. “However, if assistance is provided early in a child`s life, a positive outcome is more likely to occur.”